We often think about adults when we think about or hear about domestic violence. However, physically, emotionally and verbally abusive relationships occur in teenage relationships too. While reviewing this subject I came upon a video discussing the Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding. This typically involves a relationship with someone who is narcissistic. However, while listening to it, the video describes my experience treating adults and teens who are in abusive relationships. I think the video makes it very clear what occurs in an abusive relationship and why they can be difficult to get out of an abusive relationship. Here is the link for the video https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pUKgIXHD278.
The video mentions four major warning signs. The warning signs to watch for are:
1. The person being abused feels threatened by their partner.
2. The partner does nice things to entice the person to be in the relationship.
3. The partner isolates the person from friends and family. They want you do only listen to them to depend on them. If you have plans to do something without your partner, they will sabotage your plans. They don’t want you anywhere without them.
4. The person is afraid of ending the relationship because the partner may become upset and this is scary to the person trying to leave. The partner will usually do something nice at this point to confuse you and keep you in the relationship
These are the major warning signs. Typically at the beginning of the relationship everyone thinks the abuser is a very nice person. This only further confuses the victim when they try to leave the relationship.
Over time people start to notice some of the isolation and people very close to the victim notice something is not right. However, the abuser will then do something nice and this confuses the victim, especially a teenager. They are not sure what to do. Also the video mentions male victims too. Yes men and young men can become in abusive relationships too. A girl can be physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. If a teenage boy is involved in an abusive relationship, they can find it very difficult to admit. They feel very embarrassed because they were abused by a girl. They are young men and according to the outdated male stereotype, they should be strong enough to handle a girl. Also maybe the partner is a guy. So besides admitting they are in an abusive relationship, they may need to admit to family and friends that they are homosexual before they are ready. Think about it, this is a lot for a teenage boy to deal with at one time.
How common is the issue? According to the CDC, 1 in 11 high school girls report being in an abusive relationship. Also according to the CDC, 1 in 15 high school boys report being in an abusive relationship. These numbers are probably higher in reality. The are most likely higher because many teenagers think you can’t be in an abusive relationship in high school or they are not aware what an abusive relationship is. Another reason the numbers are probably higher is that many teenagers don’t want to admit they are in an abusive relationship. Regardless of the numbers, abusive relationships do exist in high school. Besides physical, emotional and verbal abuse, there is sexual abuse in high school. A person is physically forced to do or made to feel guilty into performing a sexual act they do not want to. If physical force is used, we are looking at rape. However, many teens use verbal and emotional abuse to get their girlfriend or boyfriend to engage in a sexual act they do not want to do. This is another reason teens may not report an abusive relationship because they feel ashamed about what they did. They brains have not developed enough so they can understand it was not their fault.
So we know abusive relationships occur in high school, what do we do? First, parents talk to your teens and explain they are normal if they do not have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Teenagers are desperate to fit in and most believe they must be dating and have a boyfriend or girlfriend to be normal. They also believe being sexually active is normal in high school. Explain everyone is different and what they see on television is not reality. It is also normal not to date in high school and it is also normal not to be sexually active. It is also important to discuss and explain verbal and emotional abuse. You may want to look online for some examples. Explain no one ever has the right to disrespect them and treat them that way. Also explain if someone is being abusive it is alright to ask for help and there is nothing to be ashamed about. You will need to repeat these facts to your teen once in a while so they remember and believe it. Also watch how members of your family are treated. At times it is easy when you are angry and you may say something inappropriate to your child making them feel like they are worthless. If it happens, acknowledge it and apologize. By modeling you made a mistake, and everyone makes mistakes, you help your teen understand what is appropriate and inappropriate treatment.
Finally, if you notice changes such as a decrease in your teen’s self-esteem or they seem overly concerned about upsetting their boyfriend, a decrease in grades and they won’t speak to you, schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and abusive relationships. There is nothing to be ashamed about. However, if they are involved in an abusive relationship get them the help they need now. Research shows that if someone is in an abusive relationship and they do not receive psychological help, their following relationships will also be abusive. They abuse begins to feel like love and they will seek it out.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over twenty years treating teenagers and he is certified in domestic violence issues. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.